US Geological Survey


Date of this Version



Progress in Physical Geography 24,1 (2000) pp. 1–20.


U. S. government work.


A widening variety of applications is diversifying geomorphometry (digital terrain modelling), the quantitative study of topography. An amalgam of earth science, mathematics, engineering and computer science, the discipline has been revolutionized by the computer manipulation of gridded terrain heights, or digital elevation models (DEMs). Its rapid expansion continues. This article reviews the remarkable diversity of recent morphometric work in 15 selected topics and discusses their significance and prospects. The quantitative analysis of industrial microsurface topography is introduced to the earth science community. The 14 other topics are Internet access to geomorphometry; global DEMs; DEM modelling of channel networks; self-organized criticality; fractal and wavelet analysis; soil resources; landslide hazards; barchan dunes; harvesting wind energy; sea-ice surfaces; sea-floor abyssal hills; Japanese work in morphometry; and the emerging fields of landscape ecology and image understanding. Closing remarks note reasons for the diversity within geomorphometry, speculate on future trends and recommend creating a unified field of surface representation.